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Vancouver: Ethnic food, Stanley Park and raindrops

In any restaurant of Vancouver, it's hard to come up with an international dish that's not on a menu somewhere.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2006 14:51 IST

Shake the raindrops off your umbrella, duck into a restaurant in this Pacific Coast city, and be prepared to sample food from around the world.

With half its population foreign-born, Vancouver is one of the most ethnically mixed cities in North America, and it shows in the local restaurant scene. Small family eateries and cafes owned by immigrants abound, and it's hard to come up with an international dish that's not on a menu somewhere.

Depending on which local tourist official you ask, the city has the continent's largest Chinatown, or its second- or third-largest after San Francisco and New York. Cheap, delicious meals can be had at noodle houses crammed with college students. Asian, Korean and Vietnamese grocery stores are common.

But food from other parts of the world is also easy to find, like the shrimp sandwiches at Halso Konditori, a Swedish bakery that serves lunch on Arbutus Street downtown.

There's surprisingly cheap Singaporean and Malaysian food to be had at the well-known Hawker's Delight where you can get a filling meal for 6 Canadian dollars (a little over US$5,euro4). Then there's the Tomahawk, an 80-year-old family business that serves up diner-type meals like eggs and hamburgers in log cabin surroundings, decorated by American Indian artifacts.

On the other end of the spectrum is Le Crocodile, a popular French restaurant where diners can enjoy braised rabbit leg. Urban Fare, an upscale grocery store in the Yaletown district, offers decorated loaves of artisanal bread flown in twice a week from the famous Poilane bakery in Paris, for C$99 (about US$85,euro72) each.

Three-quarters of Vancouver's restaurants are independently owned and operated, according to Geoffrey Howes, who just stepped down as chairman of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association.

But while opening a restaurant is an achievable dream for many locals, all that competition from like-minded entrepreneurs can just as quickly drive them out of business if they don't measure up. "We also have some of the highest number of failures in Canada 80 per cent either don't make money or actually fail in the first two years," Howes said.

The lively restaurant scene isn't the only reason to come to Vancouver there are plenty of other attractions. True, it rains a lot about 45 inches (114 centimeters) a year but it rarely pours. Rather it mists, it dribbles, it hangs overhead, bathing the harbor in a clear gray light, running off umbrellas in tiny little droplets. The temperature doesn't usually dip below freezing, and that mild weather, combined with all the precipitation, keeps the city green year-round.

Every once in a while a weather phenomenon that locals call the "Pineapple Express" wafts into town, carrying breezes so balmy that you can walk the waterfront without a coat in the coldest months. Restaurants have their outside tables set up no matter the season, and they're usually occupied.

Even in the rain, visitors can ride a covered boat taxi between downtown and the Granville Island Public Market, where you'll find vendors selling everything from fresh farm produce and baked goods to ethnic food and crafts. The little water taxi, known as the Aquabus, seats perhaps a dozen people and delivers passengers to several destinations for a little over C$6 (US$5,euro4). Riders get a close view of False Creek, part of the harbor that extends well into the city, passing the barges, yachts and houseboats that float along the waterfront.

Some of the houseboats are offices, with large windows facing the water; some are little houses covered in clapboard, with window boxes. A few of the boats moored in the middle of the harbor look like they've been lived in for years. Sometimes a seal swims lazily past through the urban water landscape. Much of the waterfront is open to visitors, including a long walkway along the bay. Stanley Park is another must-see.

Established in 1888, the verdant 1,000-acre (400-hectare) natural reserve is situated at the tip of the city and surrounded on three sides by water. Just a short drive from downtown, the park is at its most fragrant in spring, when the cherry trees, plum trees, azaleas and other ornamentals are blooming. But any time of year, the park has plenty to offer, with colossal cedar, hemlock and fir trees; a 6-mile (10-kilometer) seawall; several monuments, including a mermaid on a rock; a large totem pole display; and a children's railway.

The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, which features a popular beluga whale show and a good cafeteria with lattes for footsore parents.

Vancouver is a friendly place, and that may be due in part to its diversity. "People have had to learn to find ways to live together," said Baldwin Wong, who works for the city as a multicultural social planner.

But Vancouver would be very different had a proposal succeeded 40 years ago to extend what is now the trans-Canada highway through the city to the sea.

"They were going to ram it through the east side of Vancouver, through historic Chinatown, and do a big sort of typical American city thing," said Bob McGilvray, an architect who worked for the city planning office for many years. Conservationists, planners, and Chinatown residents protested, and the plan was scrapped. "The result: We don't have these huge highways downtown which are just loud and a no-man's-land," said McGilvray. Chinatown is now one of three designated historical districts in the city, and downtown Vancouver remains highway-free. It's a place that's fun to wander on foot _ as long as you carry an umbrella.

If You Go...
Vancouver: (604) 682-2222 or
http://www.tourismvancouver.com/visitors/.
HalsoKonditori:2668 Arbutus St.; (604) 736-3335 or http://www.halsobakery.com. Swedish bakery.
Hawker's Delight:4127 Main St. Malaysian and Singaporean food; entrees under C$12 (US$10,euro8).
Tomahawk: 1550 Philip Ave., North Vancouver; (604) 988-2612 or http://www.tomahawkrestaurant.com. Burgers, family fare; entrees under C$12-22 (US$10,euro8-US$20,euro17).
Le Crocodile: 100-909 Burrard St.; (604) 669-4298 or http://www.lecrocodilerestaurant.com. French food, C$12-C$40 (US$10,euro8-US$35,euro30).
Urban Fare: Yaletown location at 177 Davie St., (604) 975-7550 or http://www.urbanfare.com. Gourmet grocery store.
Aquabus: Water taxi between downtown and Granville Island Public Market, (604) 689-5858 or http://www.theaquabus.com. Tickets about C$6 (US$5,euro4).
Stanley Park: A mile (1.6 kilometers) from downtown Vancouver;http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/Parks/parks/stanley/.
Vancouver Aquarium: Located in Stanley Park; (604) 659-3474 or http://www.vanaqua.org. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., September-June; summers, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Adults, C$17.50 (US$15,euro13). Children 4-12, C$9.95 (US$8.7,euro7.3).